TBR@59 Robertgreaves's Challenge for 2016/17 part 2
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Part 1 can be found here
I have 59 books on the TBR shelves and 72 on the virtual TBR shelves, which means I have one less physical book to read than I did this time last year but 26 more ebooks.
My target for this year is 72 ROOTs. A ROOT is anything on my physical or virtual TBR shelves bought before 01/01/2017. Books count as ROOTs when I start them.
The TBR shelves:
The Grass Crown by Colleen McCullough
The Mammoth Book of Historical Whodunnits Volume 3 edited by Mike Ashley
I am an English 59-year-old partnered gay man living in Jakarta, Indonesia, where I work for a local law firm proofreading and correcting documents written by Indonesians in English. I've been doing this for 20 years. I am a member of two book clubs, one online which mainly reads fact and fiction about the Romans, and a real life one which is quite eclectic, taking it in turns to choose a book.
Happy New Year! I'm looking forward to seeing all the great titles you will read this year.
>14 Robertgreaves: My boys hated Judy Blume books! They were assigned and school and it was awful getting them to read them.
The bookclub/ROOTs I'm planning on reading in January 2017:
The Year of the Flood has been sitting on my reader ever since I first bought the reader but I still haven't got round to it. And now it's been so long since I read Oryx and Crake, I need to re-read that first. I do remember I enjoyed it once I figured out what was going on. I read The Handmaid's Tale when it first came out and also enjoyed it, even if I thought it was a bit heavy-handed with the author's message at times.
I picked up Mary Queen of Scots when we visited Holyrood Palace last year, but haven't gotten around to reading it yet (as it's a tad intimidating in size). Hope you enjoy and I'm looking forward to reading your thoughts.
Great book cover collage! Mary Queen of Scots is on my list as well. Actually borrowed it from my mum, so I might end up reading it this year!
Mary Queen of Scots has been sitting on my shelf since the turn of the millennium. It's the sheer size of the thing and thinking about lugging it around to work and back each day.
Good luck meeting your goal. I say that as a person who has fat book tastes and a slim goal. You have a corpulent goal by comparison.
Jakarta? Gathering dust, I'm ashamed to admit, in my TBR pile is Pramoedya Ananta Toer's This Earth of Mankind. Do you know of this writer and have you read anything by him? Otherwise, I have no lit from Indonesian writers.
I've read This Earth of Mankind in Indonesian (Bumi Manusia) and started the second in the quartet but didn't finish it. I have been here in Indonesia for long enough to be able to remember when his books were banned here.
Starting my No. 45, Mary Queen of Scots by Antonia Fraser. This brings the TBR shelf down to 57 and is my second ROOT for 2017. I'm reading it now because it's been sitting there for far too long and it fits the AlphaKIT.
My review of In the Unlikely Event
In the course of about eight weeks in the winter of 1951/1952 three planes crashed into the town of Elizabeth, near Newark Airport. A group of teenagers and their families live through the tragedies.
The direct effects of the crashes, the people on the planes, those in the way when the planes came down and their reactions was interesting, but the teenage angsty young love, parental disapproval of boyfriends, family break-ups, anorexia etc. left me cold.
Starting my No. 48, Three Books of Known Space by Larry Niven. More light reading as it consists of 2 novels and some short stories, all taking place in Larry Niven's Known Space universe and arranged in chronological order of events. It is my fifth ROOT for 2017 and brings the TBR pile down to 56.
My review of Lord Edgware Dies:
Lady Edgware wants a divorce so she can re-marry. Her husband refuses so she asks Poirot to act as an intermediary. To his surprise, Lord Edgware agrees immediately. But that night Lord Edgware is killed and Lady Edgware is the main suspect.
Lots of twists and turns made this a fun read. I dozed off at one point and felt sure I had found a vital clue in my dreams, but alas it wasn't.
>34 avanders: Although the stories involve the same characters there's no real arc making it a series, so they can be read as stand alones.
Back to Mary Queen of Scots after finishing Three Books of Known Space.
An omnibus of two novels and a collection of short stories, all set in Larry Niven's Known Space universe.
The two novels, "World of Ptavvs" and "A Gift from Earth" were both very enjoyable, but the short stories were a more mixed bunch. The ones that shed further light on incidents or people mentioned in these and other Known Space novels were interesting. The others were a bit 'meh', not bad but not really grabbing my interest.
Starting my No. 49, New Atlantis and The Great Instauration by Francis Bacon. This is my sixth ROOT for 2017 and brings the TBR pile down to 55.
My review of Mary Queen of Scots:
Antonia Fraser's classic biography is divided into three parts, for Mary's time in France, in Scotland, and in England.
For Fraser, Mary was a gentle, charitable soul totally unprepared by her French education and upbringing for the treacherous snakepit she found in Scotland. She made two big mistakes in her life, marrying Darnley and acquiescing to the Babington plot -- though by then after 18 years' imprisonment she was desperate.
Although like everyone I was familiar with the broad outline of her life, this thorough biography placed it all in context giving me at least a much better understanding of the background to Mary's time in France and Scotland. Although she does not indulge in the romanticism of some Marians, nevertheless, I found Fraser's account of Mary's last days and her execution unexpectedly moving.
>38 Robertgreaves: Your review has just prompted me to add Mary QoS to my wishlist.
Going to have to get cracking on Mary Queen of Scots! I am glad to hear it is thorough and provides a good understanding of the background. I'm reading it as background to the Lymond Chronicles.
>38 Robertgreaves: Mary, Queen of Scots is such a great historical persona. I have read her bio in novel form written by Margaret George.
Starting my Nos. 50 and 51, Village School by Miss Read and Thames Valley Tales by Tim Walker. They are both ebooks I've had long enough for them to count as my seventh and eighth ROOTS for 2017.
My review of New Atlantis and The Great Instauration:
Some of Sir Francis Bacon's works. I enjoyed The Great Instauration and the excerpts from Novum Organum, which gave the impression of a great mind at work. The earlier part of New Atlantis was interesting but found myself just skimming the list of research programmes at the House of Salomon. The essays on Religious Unity and the True Greatness of Kingdoms and Empires didn't really grab me either.
Starting my No. 52, Village Diary by Miss Read. This is a new ebook and so does not count as a ROOT. I am reading it as the sequel to Village School. My review:
A rather Cranford-ish account of a school year in a village primary school in the mid-1950s, so about ten years before I was that age. From my memories there must have been a lot of changes in those ten years, though I was living in a small town rather than a village.
Starting my No. 53, Alexander at the World's End by Tom Holt. This is my ninth ROOT for 2017 and brings the TBR pile down to 54.
My review of Village Diary:
In this second in the series, the focus widens out from the schoolchildren to the rest of the village. The narrator's rosy coloured spectacles do get a bit irritating at times but as an elegy for what was then a vanishing way of life and now has probably completely gone these gentle books are very soothing.
>44 Robertgreaves: oh I love seeing it laid out visually like that :)
Looks like you have an interesting month in store!
That does look like an interesting month of reading! I really want to read Longitude.
Loved Longitude! Enjoyed reading what you had to say about Fraser's MQoS. Do you know when it was first published because I feel I read it, but years ago?
IIRC, Asimov wrote a 3-vol. autobio. that I also read and enjoyed years ago. Well written, engaging, and honest. If you're a fan of his and haven't read them, I highly recommend.
In Memory Yet Green is the first, I believe.
Thanks@ Now I feel confident that I did read it. But those were the days when I didn't catalog my reading. So, no record.
Skip most of Asimov's fiction in favor of the 3-vol. autobio. After all, a really interesting real person's story is always better than fiction!
Starting my No. 54, Longitude by Dava Sobel. This is my tenth ROOT for 2017 and brings the TBR pile down to 53. This is a re-read. I forget why I put it on the TBR shelf to re-read it, but it fits CATWoman and RandomCAT.
My review of Alexander At The World's End:
The memoirs of Euxenus son of Eutychides, who is apprenticed to Diogenes the founder of the Cynics and then briefly becomes tutor to the future Alexander the Great.
Not really laugh out loud humour but for the most part it did keep a smile on my face, except for the conflict between the Antolbians and the Scythians, which took up most of the third quarter of the book and which I found rather tedious.
Starting my No. 55, Pebble in the Sky by Isaac Asimov, which is my eleventh ROOT for 2017. It's part of my read through of the stories and novels in Asimov's future history of robots and the galactic empire. I'm reading it now for the SFFKIT.
My review of Longitude:
The story of John Harrison and his invention of the chronometer, a timepiece accurate enough on shipboard to be used for calculating longitude.
Interesting, but scanty on detail. Pictures would have been nice. The Guardian has an article suggesting Maskelyne is not such a villain as Sobel makes him out to be.
Starting my No. 66, The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto by Mitch Albom. This is my twelfth ROOT for 2017 and I'm reading it now because it is my RL bookclub's choice for February.
My review of Pebble in the Sky:
Joseph Schwartz, a retired tailor, is mysteriously catapulted to a mysterious world between one step and the next. The mysterious world turns out to be the Earth 50,000 years into the future. He gets caught up in the politics of Earth versus the Galactic Empire and plot and counterplot to cause or stave off a war which will result in the deaths of quadrillions.
It's a cracking good yarn with deliberate echoes of the relations between the Roman Empire and the Jews in Judaea. But the parallels, while close enough for recognition, are not close enough to make the course of the story predictable or to be certain whether there is any deeper message for the early 1950s, when Asimov wrote it.
>55 Jackie_K: I've avoided him so far because it sounded from reviews as if he was going to be sickeningly sentimental, so I'm approaching this with some trepidation.
>57 avanders: Haha, Marmite is *very* British! It's the British equivalent of the Aussie Vegemite, if that helps any. It's basically a yeast spread, and the manufacturers coined an advertising slogan of "you either love it or you hate it", which if you get any Brits together and ask them is true - if any Brit says they aren't fussed either way, you know they're not a true Brit!! (I love it, personally. However, I have a friend who refers to it as "Satan's Earwax").
Starting my No. 67, Rubicon by Tom Holland. This brings the TBR pile down to 51 and is my thirteenth ROOT for 2017. I'm reading it now for my online bookclub.
My review of The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto:
The life of the musically gifted Fransisco Rubio, aka Frankie Presto, as told by Music.
Mostly a quick, easy read, apart from Part 3 (Frankie at Woodstock), which did drag a bit. I must admit I never really got why Music was telling Frankie's story rather than that of any other accomplished musician, though I did cry at the end of the book, at Aurora's and Frankie's deaths.
I played the Spotify playlist that goes with the book, and although I liked some of the pieces others left me cold. The ones that were supposed to be by Frankie himself were quite catchy, but I really couldn't see what was so special about Django Reinhardt's "Billets Doux", which is made so much of in the book. One song by Hank Williams would have been quite enough.
Starting my No. 68, Some Rain Must Fall and Other Stories by Michel Faber. This is my fourteenth ROOT for 2017. I am reading it now as short stories in and around other books.
My review of Thames Valley Tales:
Vignettes rather than tales, set along the Thames Valley. Interesting, but I have my doubts about the historical background to some of them.
Starting my No. 69, Justinian's Flea by William Rosen. This is an ebook which I've had for long enough for it to be my fifteenth ROOT for 2017. It fits the CultureCAT, RandomCAT and AlphaKIT for this month.
My review of Rubicon:
Tom Holland tells the story of the fall of the Roman Republic. Starting with Julius Caesar crossing the Rubicon he moves back to cover the events leading up to that point, starting with the brothers Gracchi and then takes the story on to the reign of Augustus.
I didn't think this really added much to the numerous re-tellings of this story in fact and fiction. He could have done with an editor -- some sentences were so convoluted and distorted from normal grammar I had to read them twice to be sure what he was trying to say.
>63 Robertgreaves: some sentences were so convoluted and distorted from normal grammar I had to read them twice to be sure what he was trying to say Ouch. Thank you for this warning, looks like the book can be safely avoided.
A friend has given me two books, a collection of Franz Kafka's short stories, which should be interesting as I've heard a lot about him but never read any, and Fifty Shades of Grey, which I'm not really sure will bring grace to my bookshelves. He also lent me After You by Jojo Moyes, which I'm looking forward to reading fairly soon.
In an atttempt to bring the burgeoning TBR shelves (physical and virtual) (not to mention my burgeoning weight) under control I decided earlier this year that I would only buy books as follows:
1. 2 books as a reward for each kg I lose;
2. next in a series if I am up to date with ROOTs (at a pace of 6 ROOTs per month);
3. bookclub books.
Good luck with those book-buying parameters and with the weight loss! We will be cheering you on so you can buy more books ;)
Starting my no. 70, After You by Jojo Moyes. As somebody lent it to me, it doesn't count as a ROOT.
I have already fallen off the wagon in my book buying plan. I plead in mitigation that it's a book (Claudius by Barbara Levick) that's been on my wishlist for years and 35% off a book that is normally £24.50 (already reduced from £40) is too good a bargain to pass up.
My review of Justinian's Flea by William Rosen:
The great plague of the 6th century AD.
Interesting but not quite what I was expecting. The first half of the book is a quick run through the history of the Roman Empire from Diocletian onwards as a retrospective, slowing down when we reach Justinian himself, halting in 540.
The second half starts off with the bacteriology of the plague and then takes through the plague itself and some of its effects. We then continue with the reign of Justinian and finish off with the effects of the plague not spreading to Arabia and China. In an epilogue, we look at the early Islamic conquests and then indulge in some counterfactual speculation as to what would have happened if there had been no outbreak of plague in the 6th century.
The author is completely unable to see a rabbit hole without going down it (however interesting did we really need an excursus on the architecture of Hagia Sophia?). I enjoyed it but would have liked more about the plague itself, attempts by doctors to deal with it, and people's reactions than we got (about 10 - 20% of the book). But then perhaps there isn't that much evidence. A lot more Justinian than flea despite the title.
Starting my no. 71, Doctor Faustus and Other Plays by Christopher Marlowe. This is my sixteenth ROOT for 2017 and brings the physical TBR shelves to 52.
My review of After You:
The continuing adventures of Lou Clark.
I have to say the introduction of Lily felt a bit forced but once I got over that hurdle I enjoyed it as a quick read. I got a bit teary-eyed at the end, but it didn't have the impact "Me Before You" had.
Books I'm hoping to read as ROOTs and in bookclub during March:
>72 Robertgreaves: I'd be interested in your take on this. I've not read any Radcliffe, but have heard good things about his books. I'm not doing a specific Lent book this year, but I think my planned CultureCAT reads for March and April will give me plenty to muse over.
Starting my No. 73, Amelia Peabody Omnibus by Elizabeth Peters. This ebook is an omnibus edition of 4 novels, but as it doesn't exist as physical omnibus I will count each novel as a ROOT. The first one is my eighteenth ROOT for 2017. I'm reading it now for CATWoman and AlphaKIT.
My review of Some Rain Must Fall:
Wonderful collection of short stories, some weird, some funny, some leaving you in suspense, some pleasingly whole just in themselves.
Starting my No. 74, Green Mansions by W. H. Hudson. I'm reading it for my real life book club. I've read two out of the four books in the Amelia Peabody Omnibus so that makes it my twentieth ROOT for 2017.
My review of The Crocodile on the Sandbank:
Left unexpectedly rich on his death by her scholarly father, Amelia Peabody decides to travel to Egypt. Having replaced her companion in Rome with Evelyn Barton-Forbes, she takes a cruise down the Nile to El-Amarna where they meet the Emerson brothers, who are Egyptologists excavating there. Unfortunately the expedition is disturbed by a mummy who wanders the site at night.
Written as a stand-alone but later expanded into a series, I found this rather disappointing as I'd heard/read so many good things about the series. I enjoyed Amelia's outlook on life and her repartee with Emerson, but felt the mystery element was a failure since I worked out what was behind the goings-on very early on. Perhaps I've seen too many episodes of Scooby-Doo.
My review of The Curse of the Pharoahs:
Lady Baskerville hires Emerson to continue the dig interrupted by her husband's death, which certain newspapers are playing up as due to a curse from the owner of the tomb Lord Baskerville was excavating. Naturally Peabody comes too to investigate what she is sure was murder.
I felt this one worked better as a mystery with lots of suspects. Although I did wonder about the guilty party from time to time I was sufficiently distracted by red herrings to not be at all sure. And this installment was very, very funny.
>75 Robertgreaves: "Perhaps I've seen too many episodes of Scooby Doo" - that really made me laugh! The books do sound quite fun though.
Having finished Green Mansions, I am going back to start The Mummy Case, the third novel in the Amelia Peabody Omnibus, which will be my twenty-first ROOT for 2017, and Edward II, the last play in Doctor Faustus and Other Plays (which apparently is on YouTube, so I can watch it after I've read it).
My review of "Green Mansions":
Mr. Abel, a socially prominent figure in Georgetown, Guyana, tells his best friend, a recent American? British? Canadian? arrival, the secret of certain events in his life before his own arrival in Georgetown from Venezuela.
I spent the whole book waiting for some big reveal to occur and for the REAL story to get started. It didn't.
Starting the next Amelia Peabody adventure, The Deeds of the Disturber. This is my No. 75 but as a recent ebook purchase, it doesn't count as a ROOT.
My reviews of The Mummy Case and Lion in the Valley (my twenty-second ROOT) from the Amelia Peabody Omnibus.
The Mummy Case
Emerson and Peabody return to Egypt, this time with their son, Ramses. Peabody goes to meet a Cairene antiques dealer who may have some demotic manuscripts, only to find he has been murdered. Who was the mysterious man she saw him with earlier and what is he doing in the labour force on the Emerson-Peabody excavation?
Another very funny episode, though I shall be glad when Ramses learns to talk properly.
Lion in the Valley
Another year, another dig, another body. The Emersons are back in Egypt but it appears the mysterious Sethos is out for revenge.
I don't like criminal masterminds so I do hope this is the last we see of Sethos. But apart from that these mysteries continue to keep me chuckling away.
And I'm pleased to report that I've lost a kg so by my rules I can buy two books. My weight is at its lowest since 7 October last year.
>80 Robertgreaves: oh, well done, great idea! Would follow suit but first have to conquer the nibbling-while-reading habit which is contributing to the kgs gained :/
My No. 76 is the next Amelia Peabody book, The Last Camel Died At Noon. It is a new purchase and so not a ROOT.
My review of The Deeds of the Disturber:
Emerson and Peabody and their family return to England so that Emerson can do some research for his magnum opus in the British Museum. A night watchman is found dead in front of a mummy in the museum from what appears to be a stroke but then one of the Museum Keepers is murdered in front of Cleopatra's Needle. Who is the mysterious sem priest performing rituals in front of the mummy and is he connected with the murder?
A great mystery which certainly had me looking in quite the wrong direction. I could have done without the jealousy subplot though.
Starting my No. 77 The Cross in the Closet by Timothy Kurek, which brings the physical TBR shelves down to 51. This is my twenty-third ROOT for 2017. I am reading it now because it fits the CultureCAT and AlphaKIT.
>73 Jackie_K: My review of What is the Point of Being a Christian?, unchanged from last time I read it:
When Timothy Radcliffe was asked the title question by a friend he replied, "Because it's true," but apparently that wasn't a good enough answer for his friend.
In this book he explores what we mean by saying Christianity is by true in a culture where the idea of truth is losing respect. He moves on to discuss choices we make, personal and social treatment of others, courage, our nature as physical and social beings, and the fault lines between and within Christian denominations.
All in all, a very thought provoking book. Definitely one to keep and read and re-read.
My review of The Last Camel Died At Noon:
The author's explicit homage to H. Rider Haggard has Amelia and family being taken to a lost city surviving from the Cushite period of Ancient Egypt.
Great fun with lots of treachery and twists and turns. But one conversation in the last chapter had so many Victorian oblique euphemisms I'm not sure whether I understood or not.
Starting another book of short stories to read in and around other books, my No. 78, The Wind's Twelve Quarters by Ursula K. Le Guin
My review of The Cross in the Closet
Coming from a conservative American Christian upbringing, Timothy Kurek feels dissatisfied about the way he handled a confrontation with gay protestors at his Christian university and his reaction when a friend is disowned by her family when she comes out as a lesbian. He decides to walk a mile in somebody else's shoes and falsely come out as gay for a year. This is the story of that year.
The first chapter (actually chapter 0) is a bit of a mess, hopping about between different points in the timeline and leaving me very confused despite having heard the basic story elsewhere. Although I persisted it was with much less eager anticipation than when I started.
However, once I got past that chapter, I found the book gripping and emotionally moving. I was stirred by the author's emotional honesty and thought-provoking comments about both communities while seeing the members of the two communities as individuals rather than examples of this or that group.
... I will definitely not be able to "catch up" on threads.. so I'm just dropping in to say Hi!! :)
Starting my No. 80, the second in C. S. Lewis's space trilogy, Perelandra.This is my twenty-fifth ROOT for 2017.
My review of Out of the Silent Planet:
Elwin Ransom is on a walking tour when he is drugged and kidnapped. He wakes up on a spaceship headed for Malacandra, which we know as Mars.
I'm not sure how grounded in contemporary (pre WWII) science this was, but anyway it's more an exploration of theology. What might a planet where there was no Fall be like? And what would be the effect if Fallen man (and it is man, I don't think there were any female characters apart from a brief appearance from a random countrywoman at the beginning on Earth) arrived? Enjoyable, but needs a shifting of mental gears to get into if you're more used to traditional SF.
Starting That Hideous Strength, the third in the trilogy, as my No. 81 and my twenty-sixth ROOT for 2017.
My review of Perelandra:
The eldila send Elwin Ransom on a mission to Perelandra, what we call Venus, to prevent a second Eve from succumbing to temptation and a second Fall.
Starting from the prosaic, we move surely but steadily through the wonders of a new world to the struggle against Professor Weston (the Satan figure) to the mythic splendour of the finale, with lots to ponder on the way.
>95 Robertgreaves: I tried that ages ago and couldn't make sense of it. Your review makes me reconsider it...
Starting my No. 82, Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James, lent by a very insistent friend, so not a ROOT. However, it does bring the physical TBR shelves down to 50.
My review of That Hideous Strength:
Jane Studdock's nightmares turn out to be true dreams and she may be a key player in a struggle between Earth's evil planetary angel and the heavens.
Although there are places where I winced a bit at Lewis's ideas of the proper relations between the sexes and the big, bad, lesbian Miss Hardcastle, Lewis's writing does give the story a mythic grandeur without being written in faux-medieval style, which is odd considering the medieval world view of Earth and the Heavens it comes from.
I got about halfway through Fifty Shades of Grey when I gave up. There is a good story struggling to get out, but I just couldn't be bothered any more. OTOH if I ever meet a billionaire with exotic tastes who is looking for that special bookish someone who lacks all physical coordination, I might try again.
Replacing it as my No. 82 with This Night's Foul Work by Fred Vargas. This brings the TBR shelves down to 49 and is my twenty-seventh ROOT for 2017.
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